The Round-Up: On Vets, Spooks and the Beginning of the End

It’s been a busy week here at the office between consulting, training, interviews and a little rock n’ roll here and there. here are a few updates from a snowy first week in October.

NostalgiaFirst, Kirkus Reviews kindly published my feature interview with novelist Dennis McFarland about his contemplative new novel Nostalgia.  Kirkus called it, “A distinguished addition to fictionalized narratives focused on the Civil War and its aftermath” but I think it’s deeper than that, as I discussed with Mr. McFarland during a rich conversation about the novel’s themes and the character of Walt Whitman, who I discovered during the course of my research really did work as a volunteer in Washington veteran’s hospitals during the Civil War. More specifically, it was a way for the author to approach the modern plague of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury from a different perspective. (Side note, even though I use the term PTSD in the feature, I really do prefer the connotations of PTSI. These people aren’t fundamentally broken in some way. Something happened to them. That’s an injury, not a disorder.)

Thank YouWhile McFarland’s Nostalgia uses the patina of the American Civil War to tell the story of Summerfield Hayes, I can also recommend another recent non-fiction work that addresses the issue of post-war reintegration with the clearest eyes imaginable. I was reading the Tattered Cover’s (my local bookstore) list of upcoming events this morning, and noted that Washington Post reporter David Finkel will be coming in November to sign Thank You For Your Service. It’s a follow-up to his war reporting in The Good Soldiers, following the men of the 2-16 Infantry Batallion home from the war. It’s a terrifying, eye-opening book about American service that ought to be required reading for anyone on either side of an international conflict.

I’ve also been reading about the death of popular novelist Tom Clancy this week, with quite a few reservations. I have to The Divisionadmit that much of my exposure to the so-called Clancy-verse came through videogames like Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six, but I have let myself go with one of his airport thrillers from time to time. However, conservative pundits and literary critics alike are hailing the author like he was some kind of military genius to be lionized in the canon of American literature. The truth is that The Hunt For Red October is a very good first novel, with a tightly controlled atmosphere. The Cardinal of the Kremlin is a fine entry in the espionage genre, and my favorite of the books remains Without Remorse and Rainbow Six, all because John Clark is a far more interesting character than everyman Jack Ryan. It’s around the time of Rainbow Six (which I still suspect was largely ghostwritten) that the Jack Ryan series becomes absolutely ridiculous, as a (eerily prescient) terrorist attack wipes out most of the White House administration and much of Congress, while a mid-level CIA analyst becomes President of the United States. Unfortunately in the end, Clancy had become a brand unto himself, a product to be marketed to teenagers and middle-aged men. Don’t even get me started on the corollary series like Ghost Recon and Net Force. It’s a fairly well-known fact that co-author “David Michaels” is just a placeholder name for whatever ghostwriter has been hired for a particular product. It’s my odds-on bet that Clancy books will continue to be pumped into the marketplace, just like the late Robert B. Parker’s. In some ways, I suppose it’s the end of an era. Personally, I think the future of thrillers belongs to people like Charlie Huston, or Warren Ellis, or Max Barry, who seem to have a much better sense of how terrifying the future of espionage actually may be.

The October ListFinally, if you really want to talk about someone who’s smart, prolific and has an uncanny ability to pull the rug out from underneath his readers, you can’t miss with Jeffrey Deaver, whom I profiled in Kirkus Reviews this week. I quite like Deaver’s books, although I’m sometimes startled by his voluminous output. Much like Robert Crais, Deaver’s work is always solid, and he’s prone to doing interesting things like writing and recording an entire album of country music for one of his Kathryn Dance novels, or writing up real recipes that coincide with Jacob Swann, the serial killer who haunts the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel The Kill Room. His latest, The October List, is about as experimental as anything I’ve seen in the genre, proceeding backwards chapter by chapter, a la Memento. It’s a trick that’s a lot easier to pull off in a visual medium, but Deaver does marvelous work here. Enjoy the interview, where we had a great talk about reverse chronology, his James Bond novel Carte Blanche, and how Steven Sondheim kicked the whole mess off.

I’m out. Have a nice weekend, everybody.

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